Recently I saw an op ed in the paper that tells me I am not the only person questioning whether the current Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello, is the right man for the job. One of the leaders of the Progressive Democrats of RI concluded that the policy prescriptions of the Speaker are seriously out of alignment with the Democratic Party and the people of Rhode Island. That the Speaker sells his own party down the river is of no concern to me, I expect such shenanigans, but the policy prescriptions that the Speaker offers are seriously out of whack. Likely to make the economic problems worse in Rhode Island rather than alleviate them.
My special concern is issues along the ecology/economy interface and the economic development of low income communities, and I will come back to why the Speaker’s economic policy prescriptions will be ineffective due to ignoring ecological healing and economic justice another day, but today I want to point out one more problem the Speaker will bring to Rhode Island.
Given the recent history of RI Speaker’s of the House leaving office under a cloud, I am guessing that there is something inherent in the position and the men seeking it that causes the men seeking to be Speaker to be ethically challenged. The competition is so cut throat, especially in the scramble to fill the position when the Speaker leaves under a cloud, that anyone with a shred of ethics has no chance. The least qualified to lead therefore get the job.
The temptations these ethically challenged people have once they assume the mantle of speaker of the House in Rhode Island overwhelm them, especially when so much of their focus is the 100 year struggle to fix the Rhode Island economy, a post industrial economy centered on a mid size city in an age of mega cities.
Because of the sluggish economy in Rhode Island the obsession with economic development leads us to confuse real estate speculation with actual economic development. This belief that real estate speculation is economic development seems to have a particularly nasty twist when it comes to Speakers of the RI House as many of the recent occupants of the hot seat come to it from an occupational history as lawyers involved in the business of real estate transactions.
There are a number of problems with this beyond skewing the Speaker’s understanding of economic development in the 21st Century. The first and foremost is that real estate speculation in old industrial places like Rhode Island is not in any way a capitalist enterprise. Nearly all development except the spreading of sprawl into the exurbs happens with subsidies from the public.
Picture it. Most powerful man in RI, sets policy, directs investment, signs off on subsidies. He comes to the office already immersed in the real estate industry, including its use of subsidies and desire to drain every wetland. An industry that is already a huge source of money for state and local elections (mostly because of its need for subsidies), and the basic source of corruption in our communities. The Speaker of the House is right in the center of the fetid swamp enjoying the water.
As far as I know Speaker Mattiello is not currently under investigation and there is no word of his being involved in any corrupt dealings other than selling out the people of Rhode Island, which seems to be legal. But the combination of real estate oriented lawyer Speakers and the need for subsidies in the industry is so powerful that I am not asking if Speaker Mattiello will eventually have to leave under a cloud, only when. In the mean time we shall be subject to horrible and ineffective policy due to the anti regulatory, anti community, pro inequality memes that have already infested his brain due to his day job.